Drones are transforming the way inspection and maintenance of assets such as well sites, pipelines, storage tanks and offshore platforms are carried out. Technology saves time and money at every level of the petroleum production process, by enabling advantages such as fast and precise surveys and inspection of hard-to-reach locations. Drones can be used to monitor leaks or gas emissions; detect spills, corrosion and heat spots; and increase safety by removing the need for human intervention at flare stacks, oil rigs and along stretches of pipeline. Drone data is more accurate than manual data and highlights trends that are not visible to the naked eye. Deploying the latest technology can save the oil and gas sector millions of dollars by enhancing on-site safety and lowering maintenance expenses. This technology is utilised to conduct routine inspections safely and provide operators and specialists with complete and real-time visualisation at a fraction of the expense of traditional methods, and without the physical constraints that conventional means impose.
Why should drones be used in the gas sector?
The aerial intelligence provided by drones offers several key benefits, including safer inspections and helping companies comply with regulatory requirements, while saving millions of dollars in labour, remediation and other costs. Identification of possible geographical areas, survey mapping, drilling and exploration, and crude oil and gas production are all part of the upstream process. Drones have the potential to change a time-consuming and inaccurate manual procedure into an efficient and accurate one. If equipped with infrared cameras, drones can identify early signs of damage to pipelines and storage facilities, preventing shortages and leakage. Because these pipes traverse state lines, drones can monitor any interstate violations or illegal attempts and transmit precise data, photos and videos to authorities in real time. They can also help reduce the cost of hiring helicopters or aeroplanes. Furthermore, drones can perform effective stock checks at the warehouse level by reading radio frequency identification tags, allowing data to be updated and any shortages to be communicated quickly. Surveillance technology also assists with transportation management. Roadblocks or vehicle breakdowns might cause delays in the sector. Drones stay updated on such events and offer detailed reports ahead of time. Teams can use information about landslides and damaged roads to prepare alternative routes. Drones can also detect early indicators of failure and assist authorities in planning for service interruptions and delays.
Potential risk factors
An essential operation in an oil refinery is performing a general visual inspection to discover fractures and irregularities on the inside of a huge chimney. Drones are frequently employed to do this, because their ability to fly closer to the source ensures high quality inspection. Sudden operational failures, on the other hand, could result in drone damage, refinery plant damage from collisions, and/or lethal or near-death incidents if a drone collides with personnel.
Despite the fact that drones are widely used, the law around them is still evolving, as it is a new technology. The perpetuation of drone technology will require a careful balance between implementing enabling measures and instituting a comprehensive air traffic control system covering both manned and unmanned aircraft.
Application of drones in the oil and gas industry
The emergence and use of a number of modern and contemporary procedures has aided in the overall improvement of the oil and gas sector. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles has propelled the oil and gas industry to unprecedented levels. Drones in the domains of chimneys and smoke stacks significantly reduce human dangers. Drones are also valuable inspection tools because of features such as strong lighting, thermal cameras and sensors, data review services and accurate measurements. Access to remote survey locations and reduced inspection costs are further reasons for using them. Drones with features such as thorough and automatic picture recognition, relevant data collection for analysis and review, and more can be used to improve internal inspection of storage tanks. Oil rigs and mines located offshore tend to involve tedious and hazardous operations because of the high risks and dangers associated with oil tanks and infrastructure. Drone technology enables comprehensive and detailed surveillance and analysis of offshore oil platforms, as well as oil leakage detection gas emission monitoring and security.
Installation of surveillance systems
Oil India Limited (OIL) launched an ambitious drone surveillance project in October 2021 to tackle crude oil and condensate pilferage, pipe theft, well head tampering and tapping of crude oil delivery pipelines, as well as to strengthen overall operational security. The project is aimed at enabling complete visibility of crude oil delivery lines and flowlines, strengthening operations, and ensuring the security of national assets. Under the Digital Readiness for Innovation and Value in E&P initiative, the drone surveillance project was launched at OIL’s field headquarters in Duliajan in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh district to curb criminal activities at several OIL locations. These surveillance technologies ensure that pipelines are scanned and monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, enabling speedier detection of fire, crude oil leaks and spills, and near-real-time detection of intruders, allowing OIL to take proactive measures to increase performance and efficiency.
To minimise fuel theft and interruption, Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) has implemented a round-the-clock drone monitoring technology to monitor 15,000 km of pipeline networks. Instrumentation and supervisory control and data acquisition systems are used to monitor pipeline flow, pressure and trends. In fiscal year 2020-21, drone technology assisted the company in the arrest of 53 people and the blocking of 34 attempts to steal fuel. The corporation has deployed drones alongside the 120 km Delhi-Panipat-Mathura-Jalandhar pipeline to monitor the pipeline’s live feed.
Vedanta Limited also uses drones to monitor safety risks at its smelting units and to detect leakages in its oil and gas pipelines in Rajasthan. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited has started leveraging drone technology to record their workers’ behaviour to ensure social distancing rules are followed. Meanwhile, GAIL (India) Limited has deployed drones on a pilot basis for aerial surveillance of the Hazira-Vijaypur-Jagdishpur pipeline in the Chambal ravines in Madhya Pradesh. They are used to patrol the gas pipeline and detect abnormal physical activity such as encroachment or intrusion.
Oil and gas data sets are largely geographically based; as a result, drone mapping is helping companies monitor their assets with greater precision and in real time. These surveillance systems have immense potential to assist sustainable development at scale and modernise the country. Big corporations are planning to deploy cutting-edge technology in the oil and gas industry by improving on-site safety and lowering maintenance costs. Going forward, the demand for drones in gas distribution is only going to expand.